Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Face Of The Enemy

There's been a couple of oblique references in comments recently to my very partisan stance on American politics. I know that I'm significantly to the left by most measures, but I wanted to remind people that that isn't why I'm partisan when it comes to the US. I'm partisan because the Republican Party as an entity [1] is very, very powerful, and totally, irredeemably evil.

In fairness, probably very few of them are what I would describe as evil by design (Mr Cheney, I'm looking at you here). The problem is, as Iain Banks noted in Complicity, if you combine thundering incompetence with the desire for power [2] you're bound to wind up with massive and costly errors, for which you are directly responsible, and wielding power you know (or should know) you are not capable of using sensibly becomes evil to all intents and purposes.

Having spent so much time yesterday arguing that you can't make these generalisations and not offer up a shred of evidence, here's John Boehner, a man who is only not Speaker of the House because the Democrats are in the majority right now.
George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide.
Is he deliberately evil, or so incompetent and ignorant that he might as well be? "Carcinogen" is a word used to describe a substance or phenomenon that has been linked with cancer. If anyone has made the argument that CO2 is a carcinogen, it's news to me. More obviously, though, the man who may be the next Speaker of the House believes that something can't be bad if cows fart it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is his argument. It's pretty irritating when people deliberately ignore subtleties of an argument for the sake of a soundbite, but in this case the "subtlety" is that thanks to us there are a billion fucking cows in the world. Which produce methane, by the way, which is much more of a concern than CO2, though at this point I'm amazed he even managed to correctly identify cows as being part of the discussion.

Incompetence + Power = Evil. There's partisan politics, and then there's just knowing who the enemy is.

[1] Note my cunning sleight-of-hand here, referring to the party as a single unit to prevent me from having to deal with them as individuals. I'm quite sure there are plenty of Republicans who are neither evil nor stupid. As several people more smart than I have have noted, though, the problem with the GOP elders is that stupidity is not seen as an impediment for progress, whereas intelligence is viewed with suspicion.

[2] To be strictly accurate, in that book the observation was made regarding a doctor killing a patient through incompetence, though the more general point was driven home too.

13 comments:

Senior Spielbergo said...

I thought you were going easy today? Nope? Ah well…

“George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide.”Having now read the interview in question where you got the quote from it is quite clear that Mr Boehner (which by the way is far too funny a name to pronounce out loud without chuckling) in fact agrees that climate change does exist and appears to be making the point that Carbon Dioxide does not simply stem from man and it’s big dirty machines but also by plenty of natural things in the environment as well. The bulk of his point in the interview seems to consist of an opinion that climate change needs to be done on a global setting with every country doing the same things, rather than one country (America) leading the way on their own and because of all the added expense losing jobs overseas because of it.

In respect of the cow thing, I believe he may have been referring to such things as this rather than cows farting, which seems to be what it is taken as (and could well be him misunderstanding the issue, but that I can’t comment on).

Finally in respect of this one:

“Carcinogen" is a word used to describe a substance or phenomenon that has been linked with cancer. If anyone has made the argument that CO2 is a carcinogen, it's news to me.”In respect of this one point I would just say that I didn’t read it as saying Carbon Dioxide is a Carcinogen in the literal sense but rather referring to it as a Carcinogen in the same way Global Warming and Climate Change are frequently referred to as a cancer affecting the planet.

Anyway I feel you need to do more to establish actual incompetence rather than more simply a view that you disagree with as otherwise you’re missing a crucial part of your proposed equation:

”Incompetence + Power = Evil.”Plus I’m not entirely sure this point is totally valid. Especially when your basing the call of what is “incompetent” on the notion that saying stupid things necessarily makes you incompetent, and even if it does any seeking of power immediately makes you evil (evil by the way – at least in my definition - requires a deliberate intent to perform the negative acts, and simply being incompetent and not realising you are should not make you cross the line into being evil – maybe the people who voted for you knowing you were incompetent could be considered evil, but if you yourself don’t believe you were are incompetent I can’t see any intent and therefore no evil).

I certainly say stupid things at times (OK, OK maybe a little bit more often than that), and while you can therefore put forward an argument that I am therefore a bit incompetent (OK, OK, a lot incompetent) I would hope that if I ever felt the desire to run for public office this would not make me evil.

Plus if you base the idea of saying stupid things and seeking power are all that’s needed to make you inherently evil we could do this for pretty much any political party or group, lets take Al Gore (the guy who would have been President if it wasn’t for you know that election thing):

"A zebra does not change its spots." - Al Gore, attacking President George Bush in 1992

"I tell you, that Michael Jackson is unbelievable! Isn't he? He's just unbelievable. Three plays in twenty seconds." - Al Gore commenting on basketball star Michael Jordan

"Breast cancer victims face a long waiting line before they could get a biopsy or, uh, or a uh, another kind of, what am I looking for, a sonogram or...." (people in the crowd shouted "Mammogram!") - Al Gore in 2000

Oh No! That means the Democrats must be Evil as well! Who on Earth will the American people vote for???

Do I really need to Google stupid quotes for every other political party / independent candidate out there, or can we except that following that big long list I can basically make the point that by your logic every politician in the world is evil… Actually thinking about it that’s not that uncommon a belief… I shall withdraw…

Tom said...

Labelling a mainstream party as evil is exactly the kind of yah-boo-sucks mentality which made the Republican party so dislikeable in the first place. Don't stoop to their level! This sort of rhetoric is also dangerous because it encourages political dirty tricks. After all, if your opponent is literally evil, isn't winning the election more important than respecting democracy?

I'd also disagree that the Republicans are irredeemable. Parties change over time - they are the party of Lincoln, after all - and with any luck one of Obama's legacies will be to pull them towards the centre ground (quite possibly by redefining where the centre ground is). The modern Republican party is a very recent phenomenon: for example their conservative stance on social issues has only been dominant since Reagan. Goldwater would certainly not have approved. They can easily change again, at least if they keep losing elections.

Tom

SpaceSquid said...

”Having now read the interview in question where you got the quote from it is quite clear that Mr Boehner (which by the way is far too funny a name to pronounce out loud without chuckling) in fact agrees that climate change does exist and appears to be making the point that Carbon Dioxide does not simply stem from man and it’s big dirty machines but also by plenty of natural things in the environment as well."

No. He was making the point that CO2 is not harmful to the environment. The fact he also admits that climate change exists but we may not be responsible is part of another point (note that he evades the question as well).

"In respect of this one point I would just say that I didn’t read it as saying Carbon Dioxide is a Carcinogen in the literal sense but rather referring to it as a Carcinogen in the same way Global Warming and Climate Change are frequently referred to as a cancer affecting the planet."

Either he meant the word literally, in which case he's used it wrong, or he meant it metaphorically, in which case it isn't clear why he thinks CO2 isn't a problem.

"Anyway I feel you need to do more to establish actual incompetence rather than more simply a view that you disagree with as otherwise"

No, I don't. "Climate change is real but man isn't too much to blame" is a view that I disagree with (me plus science, by the way). "CO2 is not harmful to the environment" is pure shit on toast, and I don't have to pretend otherwise.

"I’m not entirely sure this point is totally valid. Especially when your basing the call of what is “incompetent” on the notion that saying stupid things necessarily makes you incompetent"

That isn't what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that utilising such transparently idiotic arguments as a defence of one's position represents incompetence.

"(evil by the way – at least in my definition - requires a deliberate intent to perform the negative acts"

I was clear in the original post as regards the difference between "evil by design" and what we're talking about here. I grant you can fault the semantics, but I think the point is clear.

"I certainly say stupid things at times (OK, OK maybe a little bit more often than that), and while you can therefore put forward an argument that I am therefore a bit incompetent (OK, OK, a lot incompetent) I would hope that if I ever felt the desire to run for public office this would not make me evil."

Again, we're not talking about just saying stupid things, we're talking about a fundamentally idiotic approach to a crisis which threatens the planet. If you were so outrageously ignorant (which you're not), but still wanted to help run the world's most powerful country, then I wouldn't have much trouble labelling you as evil by dint of your idiocy.

"Plus if you base the idea of saying stupid things and seeking power are all that’s needed to make you inherently evil we could do this for pretty much any political party or group, lets take Al Gore (the guy who would have been President if it wasn’t for you know that election thing):

"A zebra does not change its spots." - Al Gore, attacking President George Bush in 1992

"I tell you, that Michael Jackson is unbelievable! Isn't he? He's just unbelievable. Three plays in twenty seconds." - Al Gore commenting on basketball star Michael Jordan

"Breast cancer victims face a long waiting line before they could get a biopsy or, uh, or a uh, another kind of, what am I looking for, a sonogram or...." (people in the crowd shouted "Mammogram!") - Al Gore in 2000

Oh No! That means the Democrats must be Evil as well! Who on Earth will the American people vote for???"

Your argument appears to be that getting names and sayings wrong (or forgetting the specific name for a medical treatment) is equivalent to using a woefully illogical argument to cover up a party's appalling policy. Which, y'know, is massively dumb.

SpaceSquid said...

"Labelling a mainstream party as evil is exactly the kind of yah-boo-sucks mentality which made the Republican party so dislikeable in the first place. Don't stoop to their level!"

Actually, I'm pretty sure it was the wealth-hoarding, racism, sexism,and homophobia that made them unpleasant.

"I'd also disagree that the Republicans are irredeemable."

Fair enough. The current bigwigs in charge of the GOP are irredeemable, but that doesn't mean the party itself can't evolve.

"They can easily change again, at least if they keep losing elections."

So far their only response to their recent thorough drubbings is to argue Bush wasn't a genuine conservative, and that the government spends too much. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for change.

Senior Spielbergo said...

Actually I think my point is that you are relabeling what is essentially a policy you disagree with, in this case the prioritising of American Jobs and the economy over the issue of climate change, with incompetence on the part of those people who support that policy. I highly doubt that Mr Boehner is unable to grasp the basic issues at hand, he just doesn’t prioritise it in the same way you do. Therefore the whole, they are “evil” thing, just seems like trying to attack someone else’s point of view, rather than express your own.

I think the thing that always gets me to post some kind of response to these posts of yours is my fundamental dislike of negative campaigning. I click on your POLITICKING tag and I don’t get a whole load of policies and views you support, but rather a whole list of opposition policies you think are stupid. Now I have a tendency (and probably a completely irrational one at that) to instinctively take the side of whoever is being attacked and provide some sort of defence. What I like to see are positive views being aired, not other peoples views being labelled as “evil” or “incompetent”. You put up a post stating a possible solution to the climate change problem and how this is the stance your preferred political party takes, then I’m likely to get behind it. You put up a post basically calling the opposition party evil and incompetent then I’m likely not to agree with you.

I think I just view negative politicising (by which I mean attacking other peoples views, rather than promoting your own) as the very bottom level of political debate and a sign that your views and policies can’t stand on their own merits. Mind you as everyone seems to do it nowadays I guess it means no one has any ideas or policies that can stand on their own merits…

SpaceSquid said...

"Actually I think my point is that you are relabeling what is essentially a policy you disagree with, in this case the prioritising of American Jobs and the economy over the issue of climate change, with incompetence on the part of those people who support that policy."

That's not true. If Boehner wanted to say "I think American jobs are more important than the environment", that would be one thing. He's trying to argue that trying to save the environment is bad for American jobs (which is a debatable point in any case, but that's another story) but that in any case CO2 isn't an issue. I don't see why pointing out the second part of that is bollocks means I am disagreeing with the policy of prioritising jobs over the environment. It's the act of misrepresenting science (deliberately or otherwise) I'm objecting to.

"I think the thing that always gets me to post some kind of response to these posts of yours is my fundamental dislike of negative campaigning. I click on your POLITICKING tag and I don’t get a whole load of policies and views you support, but rather a whole list of opposition policies you think are stupid."

That's a fair point. Mainly that's because my interest and my skill-set (such as it is) lies in recognising bad arguments, faulty logic, deliberate misrepresentation, and what have you. Thus, when I comment on politics, it tends to be from that perspective.

"I think I just view negative politicising (by which I mean attacking other peoples views, rather than promoting your own) as the very bottom level of political debate and a sign that your views and policies can’t stand on their own merits."

This only holds so long as the attack isn't backed up by anything so useful as reason. Despite your attempts to defend it (which I don't believe come even close to working, as I've mentioned), Boehner's comment, either in or out of context, is a genuinely terrible one. I don't believe that in order for me to say that, I have to provide an alternative, ecause I'm not criticising a policy, I'm criticising an attitude. In that context, the promotion of my own view is implicit: arguments should make sense.

Gooder said...

Well, I'm convince Ric isn't partisan! :-)

SpaceSquid said...

"Well, I'm convince Ric isn't partisan! :-)"

Really? 'Cos that's kinda the opposite of what I was saying...

Gooder said...

The perils of internet sarcasam strike again!

SpaceSquid said...

Damn you, emotionless text! Curse your cold-blooded indifference!

Senior Spielbergo said...

So Spacesquid is a Republican right?

Tom said...

He does seem to protest too much - and flagrantly misuses the word "liberal", a sure sign of a closet Republican!

Tom

SpaceSquid said...

It is my right as a liberal to misuse the word "liberal". There is no right or wrong, brothers and sisters. Free your minds!